Upholsterers cover furniture, fixtures and other items with materials.
They install upholstery in aircraft, motor vehicles, railroad cars and marine
vessels. They may also repair or refurbish worn-out furniture.
Custom upholsterers give advice to customers about fabrics, patterns and
furniture styles, in addition to refurbishing and creating upholstery pieces.
Upholstery is also done in furniture factories. In this type of production
upholstery, a person usually works on one specific part of the piece of furniture,
such as tacking fabric to a chair seat.
This work involves other repetitive tasks such as installing springs, stuffing
seats or placing fabric coverings. Custom work is often more creative and
rewarding than production work.
Both custom and production upholstery is done on a wide range of household
and office furnishings, as well as other pieces. "We work on cars, boats,
household furniture, offices -- you name it," says upholsterer Kevin Smeltzer.
Imagine that your favorite chair has a dip mark in the seat from years
of use and has scratches and tears in the fabric. In order to get the chair
looking like new, an upholster must follow several steps.
First, the old fabric covering, the springs and the worn padding are removed.
The padding and broken springs are replaced. Loose sections of the frame are
glued and often the wood is refinished.
Next, the nylon or cotton webbing is installed to hold the springs. Then
the springs are attached to the frame and additional stuffing is put in the
chair. The upholsterer then measures, cuts and sews a fabric cover. The fabric
is sewn, tacked or glued down and ornamental trim and buttons are added.
Some upholsterers even finish up the job by delivering their work to their
Upholsterers work in a variety of locations. Many are employed in large
and small furniture factories. These factories produce furnishings for homes,
businesses, hotels, railways, airlines and car manufacturers. Others work
in custom upholstery shops or choose to run their own refurbishing and repair
Upholsterers use common hand tools: tack hammers, staple guns, tack and
staple removers, pliers and shears, for example. They also employ such specialty
equipment as webbing stretchers and upholstery needles. Some use sewing machines
or do hand sewing.
Upholsterers should have manual dexterity, good coordination and in some
cases, the strength to lift heavy furniture. An eye for detail, a flair for
color and a creativity with fabric are helpful.
Work in production factories can mean shift work. Other shops run regular
business hours, Monday to Friday, and sometimes on weekends. Upholsterers
who run their own businesses may find they have to work extra hours.
Many upholstery shops are spacious, well lit and well ventilated, but some
can be small and dusty. Upholsterers stand while they work and do quite a
bit of stooping, bending and heavy lifting.
"You've got to have quite a bit of arm strength," says Smeltzer. "And it
can be a bit nerve-wracking working with some pieces that require extra care."